The Elephant Man on DVD
The movie that made the name David Lynch - let alone John Merrick - a
household name is a marvelously moving picture, and a credit to Paramount's
Lynch was chosen to direct the Elephant Man on the strength of his ultra-weird
(but interesting) Eraserhead. He turns out to have been an excellent choice;
his penchant for the strange coupled with the subject matter and outstanding
black-and-white production design have given us a period piece masterpiece,
John Hurt is superb as Merrick, the human being so horribly afflicted
with more than one disfiguring (and ultimately fatal) conditions that
make him so grotesque that, at film's opening, his only life is that of
a sideshow freak.
Then a dedicated surgeon/lecturer (marvelously played by Anthony Hopkins)
comes across him, is moved by his plight, and takes it upon himself to
try offering this man a better life with some shreds of dignity.
Naturally, it doesn't all work out as planned, and some people still
preferred to ogle Merrick more as a curiosity - or meal ticket - than
as a man, but on the whole the good Doctor succeeds and Merrick's last
days do give him some semblance of a real life.
The supporting cast, including John Gielgud, Wendy Hiller, Anne Bancroft,
and Freddie Jones, is outstanding. Likewise, the B&W widescreen cinematography
lends a horror movie-like atmosphere to what is at all times an extremely
horrible and atmospheric piece.
The Elephant Man was nominated for something like eight Oscars, though
it didn't win any. It should have. It's a remarkable story and a remarkable
Paramount has done the DVD justice, for the most part at least, with
a package that goes beyond their usual sparse offerings. The film is presented
in its original anamorphic widescreen presentation, 16x9 TV compatible,
with remixed Dolby Digital 5.1 surround audio (the original Dolby Surround
is also available). Picture quality is wonderful for a black and white
flick and the audio, while not really up to today's standards, is still
Paramount has thrown in some extras, too, and that's a welcome sight.
First there's a half hour retrospective documentary featuring everyone
from Mel Brooks (executive producer) to Freddie Francis (cinematographer),
Christopher Tucker (makeup), and John Hurt. There's also a separate interview
with Tucker, a narrated photo gallery, and the theatrical trailer.
Not a lot of extras, perhaps, compared with some "special edition" DVD's,
but more than Paramount usually includes - and a quality selection (and
we'd rather have quality than quantity any day).
One strange thing about this DVD is that it has no chapter stops, so
you can't skip forward through it easily. This is a pain in the neck if
you have to stop the disc and go back later unless you have the opportunity
to use the player's feature that lets you pick up where you left off after
pressing "Stop" once. This only works if you don't leave it for too long
(in models that automatically power down) or if you don't eject the disc.
The Elephant Man, from Paramount Home Video
123 min. Black and White, anamorphic widescreen (2.35:1), 16x9 TV compatible,
Dolby Digital 5.1
Starring Anthony Hopkins, John Hurt, John Gielgud, Anne Bancroft, Freddie
Jones, Wendy Hiller
Produced by Jonathan Sanger, Directed by David Lynch
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